The most important evidence against the Syrian intelligence service, Colonel Anwar R. are photos. 53,275 photos show torture victims up close, looking again and again at emaciated faces, distorted in pain, chalk white. Few of these people have been shot. Most often, they drowned or starved to death. That’s why Klaus Zorn, who rated these photos, agreed with his team at one point: Everyone only watches what they absolutely have to watch. Because these are images that you can no longer get out of your head.
Detective officer Klaus Zorn, 62, was for a long time the head of the “Central Office for Combating War Crimes” of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), based in Meckenheim near Bonn. Zorn has now been retired for over a year. But this Thursday, Zorn returns to his job as a spectator at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, where a historic judgment is handed down against the man he has persecuted for years. The investigator learns with quiet satisfaction how the intelligence service Colonel Anwar R. is condemned to be responsible for some of the many tortures. Life imprisonment.
Work in Zorn’s team had started with the photos that a Syrian military photographer codenamed Caesar had smuggled out of the country. Caesar photographed 6,786 corpses from different angles, 6,785 men and a woman. Using the prisoner’s number, which was often smeared over the corpse with a felt-tip pen, in many cases it was possible to reconstruct which department was responsible for which secret service.
Zorn investigators also visited refugee homes to interview the victims. This is the principle of the agents of the Central Office for the fight against war crimes: you do not call witnesses. You drive up to them. Just as we try to take the fear away from those who have suffered so terribly, find a quiet place to talk with them, give them time. It is bitter how often Syrians find it hard to believe that these people really come from the police. No uniform, no tone of command, no beatings?
Severely traumatized victims thanked him
It was the time when many residents of Germany complained that refugees from Syria were taking away from them gymnasiums or social benefits. Around this time, Zorn repeatedly explained to his circle of friends what a hell of a dictatorship many of these people had escaped.
Anger has also visited Africa several times during his career. There he gathered evidence against the rebel militia leader FDLR, who had taken refuge in Mannheim under a false name. Among other things, it was mass rape, so Zorn took all-female teams to Rwanda, investigators and interpreters. And he saw how severely traumatized victims thanked them afterward. No one has ever taken the time to listen to them in such detail and write their stories.
But war crimes investigators should always read between the lines, be skeptical and question statements. This was the case with Syrian Anwar R. He came to Germany and volunteered to speak to the police. He had deserted and wanted to unpack. Investigators let him speak. In the end, Anwar R. would have been very surprised if they didn’t reward him, but treated him like a suspect.
BKA investigators followed a principle that Koblenz judges now confirm with their verdict: even if an author changes sides, he remains responsible for what he did. Just like a serial rapist who stops a rape at some point does not receive an amnesty as a thank you.